Sonora's plan to roughly triple the size of the popular Dragoon Gulch hiking area, off Woods Creek Drive, took another step forward Monday.

The Sonora City Council approved hiring Stockton-based consulting firm Siegfried Engineering in a 3-0 vote at a special meeting Monday afternoon. Council members Connie Williams and Matt Hawkins were absent.

Siegfried Engineering and five other consulting firms submitted proposals for the "Dragoon Gulch Master Trails Plan," a planning blueprint for the 67-acre property acquired by the city years ago. The plan will incorporate an extension of the existing Dragoon Gulch Trail and possibly additional recreational activities.

The Dragoon Gulch Trail is a 2.5-mile loop, constructed between 2002 and 2008, crossing a 35-acre city property accessible from Woods Creek Park or, at the other end, Alpine Lane in Sonora.

Among the projects eyed: extending the trail to Sonora High School.

Project funding comes from a federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act grant.

The Tuolumne County Public Health Department received a $237,000 "Obamacare" grant for projects intended to promote healthy lifestyles and smoking cessation.

Sonora received $50,000 through a subrecipient agreement with the Tuolumne County Transportation Council to develop the plans for expanding Dragoon Gulch Trail.

The money is only earmarked for planning and engineering purposes and is intended to make the city more competitive when seeking construction funding.

"I know a lot of people who live in the county that use (Dragoon Gulch Trail) and specifically come down here to use it," said Councilman Bill Canning. "It's a benefit to the community."

Sonora residents Mel and Rose Kutsch said they attended Monday's meeting because they were concerned about an early map proposal that indicated a new trailhead would be located near their Leland Drive property.

"We're just concerned how the trails will connect because we don't want it too close to homes," Mel Kutsch said in an interview after the meeting. "We're certainly not against the trail, but it has to fit in right for everybody."

Community Development Director Rachelle Kellogg said one benefit of developing a "master trails plan" is the ability to incorporate the public's input.